The Generosity of Strangers in a Foreign Land –A

Do you remember what it was like meeting your best friend? That moment where you both just clicked? Finding someone that understands you is one of the best feelings out there. While there aren’t really words to describe what exactly “it” is, you could classify as vibe, an energy, an aura. I consider it simply to be a kindred spirit.

Now I would have considered myself fortunate to have had this happen just once in my time here in Málaga. And it did, within my first few hours of getting off the plane in Spain. While I should have been napping, unpacking, or otherwise recovering from not sleeping on the 6-hour flight to Spain, I instead went to the beach. It wasn’t my idea. A girl from France, Anne, who was living in my homestay invited me to come join her and a few friends. Me, having not been on the coast in 3 years, let alone lived on it since I was three, immediately said yes. That little act of kindness, allowed me my first friend in Málaga. While we would only share the city for the next four days, we formed a fast friendship and I was able to visit Anne in her native Paris for a week during New Year’s. I’m already looking forward to returning the favor when she gets to come to the US.

We had our share of adventures, from misplaced shopping bags, beach trips, and nights in the city center. But what’s always amazed me was our ability to connect so quickly. Whether people want to admit it or not, our native language is how we chose the vast majority of our friendships. It’s not intentional, but it’s a reality. So when you consider the miracle it was for both of us to share knowledge and/or fluency of three languages, English, French and Spanish, and that we were both in the same homestay…it’s amazing.

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Over the holidays, I had decided to stay in Europe rather than fly home. Part of the plan was that I would stay with old family friends in Italy, people I haven’t seen since I was 7 years old. I was nervous at first because they only knew me as a child, so this was either going to be the best decision, or a very awkward week. But what happened over the course of the first few days was anything but ordinary. The best way to describe it was it felt like no time had passed, like we’d known each other forever. Despite the language barrier, which we overcame with a blend of Spanish and the Italian I remembered, I was able to feel for the first time in months like I was part of a family.

In my homestay, My host mom really is the best for many different reasons, but I’m not allowed to set the table, to help cook, or do anything that might resemble that sort of connection in the house. And I understand completely why she has these rules; we have people that come from all over to stay with us. But still, in many ways, it’s not the family environment I’m used to. Being able to do those little things again, along with just generally being surrounded by love during a time that could have been difficult—this was my first Christmas away from home— was incredible.

It was hard to leave Italy and part of me wished that I could have spent more time there in Aviano. The one thing that shocked me, and I only realized this recently, was that our bond with the families there is in some cases stronger than what I have with my own family. And you could say that distance is a big part of it; I might only see a few relatives every 4 years or so. But after being away for 13 years, and not feeling the slightest bit awkward, removed, or anything…you can’t blame it on that anymore. You can see that the connection with my adopted family is just something deeper.

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Just a few weeks ago, it happened again. Each year, my college hires two students from the University of Málaga to come serve as Overseas Ambassadors for our foreign language classes. That was how I met Alicia. And while we were talking and bonding over our shared interest over the vino tinto, we just clicked. When we get together for coffee or nights in the center, there’s hardly any indication that we’ve only known each other for about a month. And while I’m sad we’d only just met here at the end of my time in Málaga, I know that we’ll have the next few weeks and a whole year in the US to continue right where we left off.

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If I’ve learned anything during my time abroad, being comfortable in this setting is more than just knowing how to order in a restaurant or knowing your way around a city. It’s the moments that you’re able to share with another person where they understand you beyond the literal sense. It’s been a hard ten months, I’ll never sugarcoat that. But these three moments, I know I’ll always consider them what made this whole experience worth it.

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